Learning from Failure: Adventurous problem-solving with ethical dilemmas | Harbord & Khan | 5 Min Read

Greek mythology contains stories of victory and defeat. Icarus, for example, didn’t get a second chance. In spite of his father’s warning, he flew too close to the sun and his wings fell apart. This example of flight contains a warning about failure. An example of flight that we find inspiring is the more modern-day idea of using origami as a space-saving mechanism in CubeSats (miniature satellites). Who would have imagined origami as a mechanism? This is an excellent example of novel and creative thinking. What other ideas are common and around us but haven’t been given a new context? 

Teacher’s Tip: How about giving your students a task based on this idea? How can students rescale and repurpose ways of making (e.g. crochet, knitting, crazy paving, patchwork, joinery) in intrepid ways? 

Heroes often succeed, but they also fail and don’t have opportunities to learn from their failures. Students are under tremendous pressure in the quest for mastery. As opposed to labors and trials, they face tests and exams. Although educators say we learn through failure, our grading systems and exams do not allow students to fail with impunity. If our educational systems do not support how we learn, then we have a problem.

Outside of mythology and heroism, we can consider the value of failure in student learning. If we fail the first time we try something and are allowed to examine why it happened, we can modify our ideas and approaches and try again. Unlike Sisyphus, who was forever condemned to push a rock up a hill only for it to roll back, students can use an iterative cycle and move forward in their quest. Design Thinking gives students opportunities to fail and keep trying different iterations until the problem is solved.

Heroes also have to develop new skills when facing increasingly challenging tasks, which is similar to the progression of levels in gaming. One of the attractions of gaming for young people is a failure because they can return and try again. Failure is just a process, and mainstream education needs a mechanism that not only condones failure but celebrates the resilience required to try…

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Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website: https://bit.ly/3XopEzQ